War, Terrorism, Religious conflict, and the people it affects.

Hello.  I'm Dave and fairly new to TA.  I want to have an open discussion where we talk about 'War, Terrorism, Religious conflict, and the people it affects.' I would love to hear the views on anyone on this topic, though, particularly those who have been affected directly or in directly by conflict or those who are afraid of divisions growing in their community.

I, myself, am from Northern Ireland.  at the age of 28, I am to young to remember the troubles at their worst, but have lived in a broken community all my life.  Recently there has been a number of outbreaks of the old more violent acts including riots and bombs.  I am a youth worker here, and deal with the affects this has on the mental health and in some cases the physical health of many of the young people in my community. This is a  country where in 'mixed religion' schools, often the first question asked by other pupils is 'are you protestant or catholic'. This question often decides who you are allowed to socialise with in that school for the rest of your time there. I have personally even been asked  'are you a protestant or catholic atheist?' On reflection, A question that both amuses and saddens me.

There are many people across the world that live in war torn country's or community's that can relate to these kinds of issues, people who know all to well that what you can and cant do or the people you socialise with are decided by which religion you are / perceived to be, the colour of your skin, your gender, your political world views, or even what side of the street you were born on.  I would love to hear any storys on this topic, how this may have affected you or the people you care about and create a discussion where advice and support can be shared and ideas on how to help heal these types of divisions can be formed.  I really cant think of anywhere better than Think Atheist in which to have such a discussion and hope that it will provide an opportunity for both learning and growth in anyone that takes part.

This is a very touchy subject for a lot of people, I would like to request that anyone commenting here to be sympathetic to the views of others.  Even the most violent views and actions are often done because people believe they must for the greater good, this can only be tackled through discussion and not ridicule and argument. 

Thanks for the time taken to read this, I can't wait to hear your points :)

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I personally have not been affected by these kinds of issues. The worst that I've seen is that, when I was growing up as a child in Illinois in the USA, the Lutheran parents on my street would sometimes exclude the Catholic kids (of whom I was one) from activities with their kids. This was more troubling to my mother than it was for me. Of course that is nothing compared to what has been going on in other parts of the world. Some of these ideological conflicts have been going on for generations and it seems will continue indefinitely. Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Syria, Sudan, etc. are all places that have seen these kinds of conflicts and in many cases are still dealing with it. It really saddens me to see this kind of behavior from normally decent and kind people. I have wondered how this can happen. How can people be conscripted to think another group is the enemy just because they hold different world views and how can they be motivated to go so far as to kill other over this difference of belief. The answer is probably very complex, but I suspect that these kinds of conflicts also share many similarities.

It seems that these kinds of conflicts are intra-national, meaning that these are not traditional wars where one sovereign nation attacks another. Instead, a conflict arises between groups internal to the country. The groups involved need to be able to quantify and identify the enemy. In almost all of these cases it is not possible to look at a person of one group and visually distinguish them from a person in the other group. They don't wear identifying uniforms, they all look the same. They may speak the same language. A group needs to demonize the other group to whip up the support of the people in order to take on and defeat the group they are fighting. These identifying traits could be race, ethnic background, tribal affilication, or religious beliefs. Race and Ethnicity are good candidates because they can then play on peoples' seemingly natural propencity of racism. Religious differences  are very effective as well due to the strength that such beliefs are held by large numbers of people.

Once the groups can be identified, groups begin to demonize their enemy groups. This is done by enhancing the differences between the groups, making up 'facts' and stories about the other group, and making black and white (good vs. evil) distinctions between one group and the other. Nationalism is often involved as well in order to persuade people to pick a group to belong to or face dire consequencs. It is impossible to live in the area of conflict and not become a member of one of the groups. The normal citizens may automatically be put in a group due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs, or they may be forced to choose through intimidation and force.

Now the killing starts. The groups attack each other. Each attack and death adds more fuel to the fire. Revenge is sought. Determination to win grows on both sides. Hatred grows. When these conflicts go on for years, new generations are brought in to continue the fight having grown up being taught how and why the enemy is to be hated and destroyed.

The conflict becomes self-perpetuating. The hatred of the groups and the desire for revenge become the reason for the conflict rather than the original reason. Whereas the original reason may have been due to gaining power through owning more land or resources, it has now become a generational conflict whose goal is to wipe out the other group completely. How do you stop a conflict like this?

How much does religion play a part in these kinds of conflicts? If there were no religions would these conflicts still occur?

As noted above, religion is not the only way that groups of people can be split into groups. If not religion, it would be something else; the color of hair, the style of dress, etc. The thing about religious dogma though is that these beliefs are held very strongly by people and it is very easy to manipulate people through religion because it is built upon a foundation of not allowing questions, blind acceptance of anything the leaders say, and freedom to interpret the religious texts in any way that helps the cause. Religions are used to control the thoughts of its adherants and is therefore an excellent tool for building armies. The power to control thought allows unbelievable attrocities.

This is a very comprehensive look at it.  I found particularly interesting the point of "It really saddens me to see this kind of behaviour from normally decent and kind people." which put me in mind of a quote from Steven Weinberg on his thoughts about religion - "With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion"

I also found interesting, and completely agree with your point on 'grown up being taught how and why the enemy is to be hated and destroyed' Which is truely one of the biggest problems faced in dealing with conflicts which have lasted generations.  It has to be tackled very carefully, it's on thing to bring someone's beliefs into question, but when you question the credibility of their parents, that's another thing entirely.

Thanks for the great points anyway, I think the future of dealing with these conflicts is in conversation, not least from free thinkers with an outside perspective. 

Sounds pretty bad.  In some ways It's not as bad as that here, the people are as nice to you as can be as long as they think your on their side.  The factions here are so big that they have structure and their own warped sense of rules, if they step out of line they get dealt with in some very messed up ways.  I cant imagine smaller gangs having that kind of structure, and being more unpredictable.

In a lot of ways though, very similar situations, I guess it doesn't matter why people start gearing up for wars, if it goes on long enough it seems it ends up being about drugs, money and control.

I hope it improves where you are.  Is there any initiatives or social schemes to try to help? and if so, are they helping at all?

Many wars are over real differences in fundamental beliefs or resources that can't reasonably be shared for various reasons and not just hatred or irrationality. While we may someday reduce the number of wars or the intensity of conflicts, they will never entirely go away.

Well, much evidence points to that effect, no doubt.  At least, if our past is anything to go by.  Though (and this is as close as i get to religion) I believe in the good nature of humans, no matter how deep we try to bury it.  It really is the blind faith that I poke at so much, I know.  But the two critical differences are these. 1) people are real. 2) people have the power of change.

The logical part of my mind agrees with you, the humanist in me hopes against the evidence.

I think it's a mistake to associate these conflicts with religion, though some come with religious trappings.  Fundamentally they are ethnic/tribal conflicts.  If one takes a biological view, they are natural selection conflicts, trying to advance one's family/tribe over another.   Religion, nationalism, tribal identity, political party are all just proxies for "my group" vs. "them" competing for resources.

The origins of the Irish conflict were the British conquest and attempt to hold the territory of Ireland for economic purposes.  In Ulster, they seized the territory of two Earls, and then James I of England (son of Mary Queen of Scots) after impoverishing lowland Scotland "encouraged" the migration of lowland Scottish Presbyterians to those territories in Ulster as a way of providing a buffer against restive native Irishmen.  That supported mass migration displaced and impoverished native Irishmen, and relegated them to the lower economic class to this day.

That bears similarities to the British capturing Palestine and then importing ethnic Jews from around the world as a bulwark against native Palestinian people.   Or ethnic Afrikaaners in South Africa.  Or any other places where a smaller ethnic minority group with better weaponry and external support displaces a local people.  Surrounded by a restive native population angry at the ethnic invaders, the new migrants have to both band together and stay loyal to the foreign power on which they are now dependent for survival.  The "us" vs. "them" is very real.

So in Ireland, this was fundamentally a political/ethnic conflict, with the groups self-identifying along language and religious lines.  England outlawed both the Irish language and the Irish religion as a way of advancing its economic/territorial aims.  If the Irish had a hair style they would have outlawed that too, and that would be part of the ongoing conflict.

That's the way of political/ethnic conflict.   In South Africa they had different skin colors, so race was involved.  In the Norman invasion of Britain, they had the same religion so it was just ethnicity and language.   In more modern times, the lines of conflict get drawn by nationalism or self-identified political party. 

So don't confuse conflict from humans' tendency to form competing groups with an effect of religion.  It's just humans' tendency to form tribes when faced with economic challenges.   Religion at times helps to attenuate that, to the extent it calls for compassion, seeing a common Father (so that we're really one group, not two) or the possibility of conversion, but it's fighting against an awfully strong human psychological trait.

Bob, I personally know people who lost family members – i.e. they were murdered only because of their religion. They were targeted coming from Church services because their religion identified them as being “the enemy”. The majority of killings were done for perceived political or historical differences but religious differences were also used in targeting people.

The killers did not use religion to deduce the political or cultural background of people and then attack them. They were attacked specifically because of their religion, be they Catholic or Protestant or any subset of either.

It is the same in Iraq and several other Islamic countries. People are targeted and killed because they have a different religion.

Read this “School Report

Of course you are correct.  People will just use religion as a means underlining differences between themselves and the 'enemy'.  As I said I was asked 'are you a protestant or catholic atheist?' by someone who thought the words were more of a way of defining sides rather than beliefs.

That said, its easier to kill and even die for a cause if 'god(s)' are on your side and will reward you for your actions.  And if the other side was destined to burn in hell for eternity anyway, You shouldn't feel guilty of dispatching them from this life to the next.

I think you are correct in that it would be foolish to blame many conflicts entirely on religion, but I think it would be even more so to deny their involvement in them, particularly in the recruitment process.  I truly think that Religion not only doesn't help these types of conflicts but actively makes them worse.

 I truly think that Religion not only doesn't help these types of conflicts but actively makes them worse.

I'm not sure.  I'll agree it's an open question, though. 

Certainly, religion can be used to generate the emotion to sustain a war or pogram.  So can nationalism, though.  It's ritual identification that taps into emotion, whether that's a religious hymn or national anthem; whether it's a religious burial or a nationalist/military one. Heck, as the U.S. has demonstrated for the last decade, just fear is sufficient to whip up at times irrational responses and war.

Here's an interesting test for you.  Stalin exterminated millions in the Soviet Union in the name of the atheist state.  China too, revolutionary France, Mexico, etc.  The crimes of atheist states are every bit as bad as the crimes of religious states.  I'd argue that's not atheism, but rather it's atheism being co-opted by nationalism, warring classes, or other tribalism and economic competition.   Would you agree, or would you say that atheism in those circumstances was actually the cause?

To be intellectually consistent, I think we have to reach the same conclusion about both sets of cases.

I disagree. It is a non sequitur to imply that Stalin killed millions because he did not believe in God. You might be more on track if you suggested that he killed people that stood against the establishment of his communist state. Atheism has no dogma or belief system. It is a lack of belief in the existence of gods. There is nothing about Atheism that can be acted upon. It is an association fallacy to suggest otherwise.

At least Bob you did not mention Hitler……:-)

PS - maybe Stalin killings tens of millions is evidence that gods don't exist?

I disagree. It is a non sequitur to imply that Stalin killed millions because he did not believe in God.  You might be more on track if you suggested that he killed people that stood against the establishment of his communist state.

I agree, @Reg, and that's exactly the point.

It is also a non sequitur to imply that any other national leader killed millions (well, at least some people if not actually millions) because he did believe in God.  You might be more on track if you suggested that the people were killed because that advanced a political, social, or economic agenda.

I suspect that Stalin killing tens of millions means that wicked humans exist more than anything.

Stalin made himself a god under the political religion of communism. There is no logical pathway from a lack of belief in imaginary friends to killing people, whereas Christians, Jews and Muslims have been killing each other and thwarting scientific advancement for millennia due to their particular delusion. Religion is the unique identifier without which there would be much less hatred and violence. 


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